Friday, September 22, 2017

A Message of Compassion: Stewart Stern

Photo and poster from Rebel without a Cause
Courtesy Classic Films Reloaded; classicfilmreloaded.com/-rebel-without-a-cause

Released in 1955, the film Rebel without a Cause vividly and insightfully captured the frustrations and anxieties of Los Angeles’s troubled youth. It was an instant hit, and it turned its stars into icons. Stewart Stern (1922–2015), the screenwriter, had sought to treat the subject of troubled youth as more than a social problem. Understanding teens and the familial situations that drove them to act out was important to him, and he refused to let violence define these confused, vulnerable, and inarticulate youths; his goal was to depict them compassionately. To Stern, the film succeeded “in terms of finding one’s own alternative family.”

Stewart Stern, 1988
Published in McGilligan, Patrick. Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. Berkeley:  University of California Press, c1991. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft0z09n7m0/
Courtesy UC Press E-Books Collection; photo: Davis Freeman

For all of the film’s success and his own, Stern ultimately left Hollywood after twenty-five years and dedicated the rest of his career to teaching screenwriting. Intense anxiety, stress, and angst over “not being good enough” had left him deeply unhappy. His inscription “You are not alone” is provocative. Is it aimed at troubled youth? Struggling writers? Anyone who feels misunderstood? Regardless, Stern’s message resonates, reminding us that even in our darkest moments we are never truly alone.
 

From the script Rebel Without a Cause, with inscription by
screenwriter Stewart Stern, 1955
Courtesy, Writers Guild Foundation Library
 
 
 
History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles
The story of the Rebel without a Cause script is represented in History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles, on view at the El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street at El Pueblo National Monument in Los Angeles from August 4 to October 1, 2017. 
 
Contributing institution of this story to History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles: Writers Guild Foundation Library. As the only library in the world focused entirely on screenwriting, the Writers Guild Foundation Library preserves and promotes the art, craft, and history of screen storytelling. It is open to the public and contains more than thirty thousand produced film, television, radio, and video game scripts, many of which have received major writing awards. The library also collects related materials such as Writers Guild of America historical records, writers’ papers, unproduced scripts, letters, photographs, production notes, memorabilia, and oral histories. In addition to its library, the Writers Guild Foundation maintains a full calendar of public events featuring high-profile speakers discussing the craft and business of screenwriting.
 
 
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